618 V O L . 7 5 P A R T 4 J U L Y 2 0 1 7 THE ADVOCATE
Nemetz had been an illustrious labour lawyer in British Columbia when
disputes between employers and union workers were nasty. In his time, the
differences were resolved in court, not, as they now are, by specialized
administrative tribunals. Nemetz proved his worth on the labour battleground.
In time, his value in serving the public interest was recognized with
his appointment successively as a judge of the trial court, a justice of the
Court of Appeal for British Columbia, Chief Justice of the trial court and
Chief Justice of British Columbia. He also served as chancellor of UBC.
Nemetz knew the high and mighty on a first-names basis. He is the only
person I have ever encountered who had a direct line to the president of
When Chief Justice Nemetz was not gowned for court (and he did not go
into court very often, preferring the other drama of his administrative
duties), he always wore a suit coat. I do not think I ever saw him in shirtsleeves,
and I know I never saw him without a tie. He was what was then
called “dapper”, although he was at the somewhat rumpled end of the dapper
spectrum. He wore big glasses with heavy, dark frames. His hair was
slate grey, streaked with silver. He combed it straight back into a smallscale,
refined James Dean pompadour. My hair was straight, shoulderlength
and very red.
The Chief Justice happened to be quite short. During our afternoon meetings
he sat swallowed up by a large red leather chair behind a mammoth
desk. There was always a can of Coca-Cola on the blotter before him. I had
a comfortable seat across from his perch. Although I do recall debating with
him whether “obtention” was really a word (it is), I cannot remember doing
anything useful while he set the list. I was one of a few recent law graduates
who made up the second group of clerks ever to have worked at the court,
and the judges had not really decided what they wanted us to do. Our assignments
were largely ad hoc, as shown by His Lordship lending me to Mr. Justice
Aikins, then of the trial court, for an important insurance case.
While I may not have helped the Chief Justice much during those afternoon
visits to his chambers, I certainly benefited one way from being there.
A wall of the chambers was taken up by a huge bookcase, chock full of all
kinds of books, many about the law. By happenstance, one day I borrowed
the Chief’s copy of H. Montgomery Hyde’s The Trials of Oscar Wilde,2 part
of the Notable British Trials series. I have been obsessed with the Wilde
story ever since.
In those days there was almost no courthouse security. My office, to label
it generously, was across a public hallway from the Chief’s chambers. I
occupied a long, narrow anteroom, barely wide enough for a desk. I entered